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The International Ballet Competitions and Modern Choreography by Benjamin Feliksdal….

March 4, 2013
 Benjamin Feliksdal, Photo by Dan Pickard

Benjamin Feliksdal, Photo by Dan Pickard

Diaghilev’s attitude to art exhibitions is quite interesting. He said, “There is nothing more harmful for a piece of art then to be exhibited in a big hall, next to pieces of art that have no semblance to each other, where they are not relatable to one another”. Valeria Uralskaya: editor in chief Russian Dance Magazine         

This statement is still valid for today’s mass forms of popular culture. Diaghilev’s intuition has unmistakable envisioned the forthcoming trends in the art world and especially in Ballet Competitions.

As Ballet professionals we have to ask the question what are the aims at these competitions? Is it the aim to have dance become just tricks of athleticism, more sports than art where the art of dance becomes less important than the ability to perform one flashy trick after another?

Hyun Hee Sim & Young Gyu Choi from Korea performing “Pray”, contemporary choreography by Soo Lee, in the Gala Concert of the 24th International Ballet Competition Varna 2010.

The upcoming 26th Varna Ballet Competition, 2014  

 Since Varna began its first International Ballet competition in 1964, it has been followed by several others, taking on more or less the same concept.

Quite early, it was decided to include “modern” or “contemporary” choreography in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the Competition. The organization is aware of the changing demands of a dancers training requirements where more than just strong classical technique is needed. Since 1964, the ballet world, especially the art of choreography, has made tremendous development both in style and content.

When an economy is unstable, the first to be impaired is the arts in general and dance in particular. The dancers, who competed in the last two competitions in Varna and particularly the juniors, are part of a generation that will expand the face of dance and in essence are the very future of dance.

International Ballet Competitions are splendid platforms that allow the opportunity to meet, observe, discuss and exchange views that benefit the young professionals.  In today’s world of Ballet, the repertory of a ballet company no longer is reserved just for the Classics but may include a wide array of different styles of dance. The diversity of today’s balletic styles ranges from the neo-classicism of Balanchine and Forsythe to the more contemporary visions of Kylián, van Manen, Wheeldon and Ratmansky.

The work of these choreographers is based upon the understanding and implementation of solid classical training. Yet, the dancer must also be flexible in their approach to dance in allowance for the unique and modern twist found in today’s choreography.

Choreographers like Béjart, Mats Ek, Eifman and Bourne have developed their range of movements even beyond that, each having a unique vision that pushes not just the dancer but the boundaries of dance itself.

What defines a dance as “Modern” as opposed to “Contemporary”?  Is it Modern because it is danced with bare feet? Does one consider a dance as contemporary because of the choice of music used or perhaps the theme or concept of the production?

Abudureheman Adilijiang from China performing “Caress”, contemporary choreography by Olaf Kollmannsberger, in the 3rd round of the 24th International Ballet Competition Varna 2010

Free Contemporary  Dance 

Benjamin Feliksdal stated:  We saw in the Varna competitions of both 2010 and 2012, that in the second round a lot of new choreographers were seen. Jorge Donn, the famous Béjart soloist, once stated that “There are a lot of so-called choreographers, but there are a few real creators”.

During the second and third rounds, the competitors danced pieces from their contemporary repertory, even though these pieces were considered contemporary, they will not leave a lasting imprint upon the historical road of dance culture mainly because these pieces did not possess the depth of vision nor the exploration of movement that define the great contemporary choreographers of today.

Kylián, van Manen and Tetley are no longer considered contemporary choreographers.   If a competitor does not have access to choreography by an established contemporary choreographer, who then should supply the choreography? Should it be the teacher, the coach or the competitor themselves that supply the choreography, in which case if fair to call it choreography? By what standards of consistency is one going to judge these issues? Judging a performance of an excerpt of Balanchine, Forsythe, van Manen, Pastor or Tharp in comparison to the choreography supplied  by the competitor, is like comparing a van Gogh, a Rembrandt to the work of an ardent student in modern arts.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       


Oldest Ballet Competition  

If the oldest ballet competition “IBC Varna” wants to keep up with the International ballet scene, IBC Varna should connect and have a dialogue or a debate with the rest of the ballet community and the existing ballet competitions. It’s up to the organizers and policy makers in which direction the competition has to go. The oldest Ballet Competition in the world has the responsibility to keep connected with the fast changing ballet world. To be the first means also to lead in leadership and show the ballet community and the existing ballet competitions new directions, stated Benjamin Feliksdal, CID member and ballet critic.                                                                                                              

It’s an obligation of the oldest ballet competition in the world to continue the old traditions with the idea to create new ones.                                                                                                                                                

IBC Varna should provide the competitors access to modern and contemporary choreography by international known names. These same choreographers should also be asked to participate as jury members (category Contemporary) and donate fragments from 1 or 2 of their masterpieces to be shown on the stage of IBC Varna. This would be a new challenge for the participants and the IBC Varna. One of the most important factors has been left out in most competitions. Going over the long list of jury members as published in the Varna Competition Booklet, the names of Kylián , Neumeier,  Mats Ek,  van Manen,  Lubovitch,  Kudelka,  Morris,  Eifman,  Bourne, Ed Wubbe, Pastor, Tharp, Cherkaoui, Duato, de Keersmaeker and many other prominent choreographers are sadly not there. If one is to attract the interest and attention of the present day choreography, should one not include the names of established choreographers as members of the jury?

Benjamin Feliksdal 

Int. Independent Jury Member

Author of Methodic Dance Books

CID Member

Ballet Coach


From → Ballet

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